A debate erupted at the Alltech FEI European Jumping and Dressage Championships at Windsor last week, when chefs d’equipe petitioned the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) for the team dressage prize-giving to take place without horses.

Riders came into the arena on foot to collect medals, and then returned mounted to walk sedately around the arena — robbing the medal ceremony of its atmosphere.

Only Edward Gal on the young stallion Totilas cantered a lap of honour after winning his gold medal for the kür.

British chef d’equipe Richard Davison initially requested the change in policy on the grounds of horse welfare since some riders expressed concern for their mounts in front of a roaring crowd.

But he acknowledged the situation was odd: “Dressage horses are meant to be more controllable, and every other discipline has mounted prize-givings — it’s a contradiction.

“That said, the safety of the horses needs to be considered, and riders need to work with the FEI to find a sensible conclusion that rewards spectators, too.”

World number one dressage rider Anky van Grunsven had a scare in 2006 when her horse, Salinero, bolted in the arena at Aachen.

She told H&H: “I do understand people want to see the horses, but prize-givings are getting wilder and these are not police horses. It’s not just dressage horses — [show jumper] Shutterfly is not used for prize-givings.”

Bronze medallist Laura Bechtolsheimer said: “I didn’t object to riding my horse in the prize-giving, I just didn’t want to pass him to someone on the ground while I got on the podium with everyone going mad.

“People are quick to say that if a horse is well ridden and on the aids his rider should be able to control him in the arena, but some horses are scared and others not. It’s nothing to do with how well they are ridden.”

Carl Hester said his ride Liebling is unaffected by prize-giving ceremonies, but he questioned whether the horses really enjoy it: “We riders enjoy the congratulations — but do the horses?”

This article was first published in Horse & Hound (3 September, ’09)

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